PAWTUCKET — They have intelligence, drive, supportive families, and a will to succeed after high school. Yet, this year's valedictorian and salutatorian of Tolman High School also credit something else as being key to their stellar academic achievements: the city itself.
“I feel very fortunate to have been born and raised in Pawtucket and in having gone though Pawtucket schools,” said Alyssa Browning, valedictorian of her graduating class. “I had amazing teachers.”
Kelly Vieira, serving as salutatorian, concurred, saying, “I'm thankful of my environment. I've lived in Pawtucket my whole life and I realize I might not be in such a place again.”
The city couldn't ask for better ambassadors than Browning and Vieira, who are heading off to their respective college choices, Brown University and Tufts University, this fall.
The two young women are both capping off school careers that include a blend of activities geared toward their personal interests as well as a spirit of volunteerism and a willingness to help others.
Browning, the daughter of Cindy and Stuart Browning, plans to major in engineering, with hopes to eventually incorporate it with her interest in religion and morality.
For example, she pointed out that something like an air conditioner is created for use by those in developed countries with little or no thought about those who are suffering in undeveloped lands.
Browning said she was inspired by a lecture that she heard at a Brown University engineering workshop on the “social justice response to engineering.” She said she aspires to not only create things but also to make people think about the larger issues and who is being affected. “Just because we do things for a Capitalist society, doesn't mean it's right for the world,” she said.
Vieira, the daughter of Jose Vieira and Maria Lopes, is pursuing her longtime dream of becoming a lawyer by majoring in political science. She said she has had an interest in law since middle school that was sparked further by her participation in the two-year Criminal Justice Academy program at Tolman. Fluent in Cape Verdean Creole and written Spanish, she is also thinking about combining law with international relations.
In addition to being in the National Honor Society, Browning's extracurricular activities include serving as class president, Chem Club president, and co-editor of the yearbook. She was also a group leader in the Science Olympiad.
Browning is also active at the Newman Congregational Church in Rumford, where she is a youth group representative on the Board of Christian Education, and helps out at the food pantry and nursery.
One of Browning's other passions outside of school is dancing, and particularly belly dancing, which she does at KaninaDance with the Belledi Dance Company.
Vieira, also a member of the National Honor Society, was a member of Tolman's girls' tennis team her senior year. She has discovered that she enjoys tennis, which she didn't think she had time for in the past, and said she intends to be more sports-minded at college. She has also tutored children at the Winters Elementary School's afterschool program and has acted as a Cape Verdean Creole translator for parent-teacher conferences at the Agnes E. Little Elementary School.
Vieira said her church, St. Joseph's in Pawtucket, also plays an important role in her life, where she is a young adult mentor for the Holy Family Parish's religious education program.
As to where she got her academic drive, Browning jokingly described herself as being “always a total nerd,” but credited her parents with raising both her and her younger sister to have a high level of confidence and to always do their best. “They used to tell us, if your best was a C, we'd be proud, and if your best was an A, we'd be proud, but if your best was a 99 and you got a 90, we'd think you should have tried harder,” she said. She added that it was “a very relaxed household, and very supportive. But they always told us, 'if you're going to do something, do it to the best of your ability.'”
Vieira, who has two younger siblings, also credited her school success to parental encouragement and “having a good support system of family and friends. It's important to have positive people around you.,”
Additionally, Vieira said she has always been self-motivated and has held the personal philosophy that, “If I have success in myself, I can use that success to help other people. If I strive and become a better person, hopefully, that can rub off on others.”